Which Agency Should Manage a Brand's Social Media Programs?
Over the last few years, many agencies have set their stake in the ground to claim their clients' social media as part of their responsibility. Some of them have done so because they truly believe it's within their domain, and others want their part of the skyrocketing social media budgets.
Social media is made up of multiple moving parts: community management, paid social, content creation, influencer marketing, insights and analytics (to name just a few), and what I would call platform strategy (new and emerging social platforms). So, who should manage a brand's social media real-time, high-impact campaigns? In-house, because social's as close to the brand as it gets? Or:
The media agency, for its media planning and execution?
The search agency, because of linking and authority?
The creative agency, for the content?
The PR agency, because social is really digital public relations?
Why sharing responsibilities doesn't work
During my career, I have had the opportunity to experience social campaigns that were led by almost all of the above. And in my experience, I do not believe that the shared approach works in most of today's brand/agency relationships. Don't even try it.
Those shared responsibilities (buying, planning, creative, community management, etc.) look beautiful on paper, but in practice, not so much. The brand or agency wants to sponsor a post, but the media agency needs 24 hours to place the buy. The creative agency wants to respond in a new way in the moment, but can't get real-time approval. The fast-paced, constantly evolving nature of social media makes it almost impossible to share these responsibilities in an effective manner.
So who should own social?
To win on social today, brands have to pay their way for visibility on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. This leads to high billings and great commissions, so it's no wonder media agencies push for owning social. However, most media agencies lack the capabilities of content creation and two-way communication between audience and brand.
One of the big hypes of the last two years was integrating search and social to create the magical 1+1=3 formula. However, most of the benefits of this marriage are heavily lopsided in favor of search, like ranking signals and the ability to broadcast and surface content quickly. Yes, social can get some insights on trending terms, but you can get those with a few simple Google tools.
Obviously, creative agencies have the capabilities to create on-brand content in near real-time. However, they often fall short in analytics, paid media and overall communications.
Public relations and social media are very closely related. Ask any PR professional and they will tell you that public relations practitioners have been doing influencer marketing, community outreach, and storytelling for decades -- they do not understand why this issue of social ownership is even a question. While they sometimes fall short in the areas of creative and media buying, they are experts in brand communication.
So, which agency is it?
Regardless of the great work search, media or creative agencies do, none of them is set up perfectly to facilitate and ignite the conversations that social media sparks between brands and consumers. Given that new platforms, tools and channels pop up almost weekly, and all agencies are scrambling to keep up, there is currently no perfect solution. But, based on my experience, I believe that social media marketing is really the result of the evolution of traditional PR.
Therefore, I strongly believe that the best agency to own social media is today's PR agency 2.0.
PR agencies are already set up to facilitate and ignite conversations between brands and consumers and with some multi-discipline support, can be a social media dream team.
If today's modern PR agencies expand their staff to include media planners and digital creative talent, I truly believe they can leverage the power of social media to drive meaningful results on these constantly evolving platforms.